Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Shot In The Back, And Who's To Blame?

       On April 3, 2017, I posted about a self-defense "gone wrong," as I characterized it. It involved a clerk in a smoke shop that shot one of three teens that rushed into his store to having been planning to rob the store. The three teens had concealed their faces when rushing into the store. In the comments, a reader took issue with the fact that I hadn't, in my summary, mentioned that the teen that was shot by the clerk, had been shot in the back multiple times.

       It reminded me of a couple articles that I've seen discussing why it is not uncommon for criminals to be shot in the back. The most basic reason, and one that is raised in an article from Bearing Arms, is that a criminal that is fleeing, with weapon in hand (or believed to be so), and presenting a real danger to other officers and/or the public, can lawfully be shot in the back by police.

       However, there are other reasons, some of which apply to civilians as well as police officers, which are discussed in Greg Ellifritz's 2015 article, "Shot in the back! How does it happen?" Although Ellifritz discusses various reasons (and I recommend that you read the whole thing), the one that is relevant here is the movement of the target during a shooting. Ellifritz explains:
2) Reaction Time- It takes time for the brain to process information and make a decision. The more complex the situation, the longer it takes to make the decision. Here are some statistics:
– On average it takes .25 seconds to react to a threat cue and begin to act.
– If that reaction to a threat cue involves a decision (i.e. “Is the thing in his hand a gun or a cell phone?”) the reaction time time is increased to an average of .56 seconds.
– The average officer takes .35 seconds to process the fact that a threat no longer exists and to stop shooting.
– The average officer fires one bullet every .25 seconds after he begins to fire
       Do you see the problem? Let’s say the bad guy is facing the officer and begins shooting. The officer starts shooting back and hits the bad guy. Bad guy drops the gun and spins away as the bullets hit him. It takes the officer .35 seconds to recognize that the bad guy is no longer a threat. He is firing a bullet every .25 seconds. That means the officer will generally fire one to two rounds AFTER making the decision to stop shooting! It’s very easy for those bullets to end up in the criminal’s back. 
       This is the BEST possible case scenario. Other factors can slow reaction time even more. Bill Lewinski of Force Science Institute writes:
“The delay in noticing any change in the nature of the threat and having the officer change his or her behavior in response to that threat could theoretically take the average officer a second to a second and a half in a dynamic, “real-world,” life-threatening encounter if the officer did not expect that the threat would cease. This process alone could be the reason for an extra three to six rounds being fired by the officer after the threat ceased—particularly if the officer was shooting as quickly as possible, was focused on shooting to save his or her own life, or emotionally recoiling in response to that threat and also simultaneously involved in assessing the threat.”
While it is unfortunate that criminals are shot in the back under these conditions, it is understandable. No matter how much an officer trains, he can’t beat physics. The time lag created by natural reaction times quite simply creates situations where criminals get shot in the back. Check out more research on this topic HERE.


  1. I watched the video you posted the other day and and it looked like a reasonable shooting to me. The kid was rushing behind the counter, moving fast. Based on testimony from the other kids, he was going to grab a pipe and run. But from the clerks perspective (and the camera's) it looked like he was rushing the clerk. And although there is a lot of noise about the kid's age, with a hood over his head and face covered it is not at all obvious he is a child. He just looks like an determined and fast moving aggressor. All things considered I expect the clerk will probably beat the charge, but it will run up some nasty legal bills.

    1. I'm not as optimistic. The jury that the prosecutor will aim to have impaneled will be older white "matronly" women and minorities who will think the proprietor is "evil" for running a smoke shop and owning a "gun", and be upset that he shot "children," even if those children were already heading down the road to becoming violent criminals.